The BRIT Nexus
Convening the Conversation
One of BRIT’s goals is to be a place where environmental issues can be openly examined and discussed. The institute brings together a range of perspectives, drawing on policy-makers, researchers, and educators from around the world, as well as community members, business leaders, and political representatives. These conversations generate questions, and we seek to provide answers based on rigorous research. The results of our research naturally generate more discussion, and so the conversation continues.
Recently BRIT has adopted a general approach for directing this ongoing conversation—think of it as a lens through which we focus our efforts. We have come to recognize that most of our questions and answers hang on a number of key convergent issues, a convergence called the “BRIT Nexus.” Our new focus on the BRIT Nexus is helping us frame vital sustainability questions and produce useful answers. We hope you will join us in this process.
Soil. Water. Plants. Food. Energy.
Historically, sustainability efforts have focused on individual problems. For example, how do we protect endangered species? How do we produce enough food to feed a growing population? How do we better recycle waste? How do we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or clean up polluted rivers and streams, or promote energy efficiency?
Attempts to answer these questions often run into trouble because they fail to look at recurrent elements that emerge from more than one of these issues. The most critical recurrent issues or concerns are soil, water, plants, food, and energy. Each of these elements is necessary for human life, and are all interconnected.
Not long ago, Royal Dutch Shell identified water, energy, and food as the triumvirate in what it termed, "Stress Nexus." While accurate, BRIT believes that two additional factors, namely soil and plants, must be included to fully articulate the causal relationships within the nexus and to comprehend how the different elements shape problems and solutions.
As the world population grows, each of these factors is being taxed. Whether in developing countries or in industrialized ones, when considerations are not balanced, diminishing returns are observed.
Attempts to secure more resources often stumble because Stress Nexus elements are considered in isolation. In fact, they are inextricably linked.
For example, food production needs to increase to feed growing populations. Feeding more people will require intensified soil use with irrigation, fertilization, and automation. Each of these stresses energy and water resources while often displacing plants with other purposes.
The BRIT Nexus is a way of thinking and working that prioritizes soil, water, plants, food, and energy security and focuses on the intersections between the five.
Nexus thinking at BRIT
BRIT sees its Nexus as a framework for its research, education, and outreach efforts. It’s a way to focus our efforts on what matters.
For every research problem, we ask ourselves, “What are the implications for water? For energy? For food?” We believe this approach will hone the design of our research projects and allow us to ask the most pertinent questions.
While we will consider all the elements of the BRIT Nexus, our immediate focus will be water. Water is a pressing need for drought-ridden North Texas; it is also a growing challenge worldwide. Most of our existing research programs already involve water management either directly or indirectly. We’re making that connection more direct and explicit for everything we do.
Our education and community outreach efforts will also focus on water. We are developing tools to educate both adults and children about water management and conservation. Raising a generation of water-conscious kids would be an enormous, long-lasting achievement for BRIT.
BRIT will continue its long-standing work on plants and soil, and in future years, we will evaluate ways to expand our focus to energy and food. Always the Institute will keep in mind how the five elements are related.
The Nexus and BRIT Research Projects
BRIT Research projects are focused on resolving practical problems. We examine issues relating to natural resource sustainability, biodiversity conservation and development, and community adoption of sustainability/conservation practices. We believe in the power of collaboration with community partners to conduct research and then to share the resulting solutions.
Here are a few examples of four problems and emerging solutions that touch on the Stress Nexus:
1. What native plants are found in North Texas ecosystems, especially grasslands, and how do they contribute to services (e.g., processing water, producing food, cleaning air pollution, providing fuel) needed by humans? BRIT is identifying and comparing plant diversity in key ecosystems, then using this knowledge to test a range of restoration processes. One result will be a web site with recommendations for property owners on how to use plants to improve the value of their property. BRIT Nexus elements: plants, soil, water, and food.
2. What are impacts of grazing animals on plant and soil biodiversity? Can native grasslands be restored so that measures of environmental health (e.g., animal food production, plant/microbe diversity, water retention) improve? BRIT is measuring plant and soil responses to grazing. The results will be used in recommendations for management of grass areas, particularly in urban areas. BRIT Nexus elements: plants, soil, and water.
3. 1. What crops have commercial production potential in North Texas? Is it possible to conserve plant diversity and also produce a profit? BRIT is studying crops grown in environments similar to North Texas in other parts of the world (e.g., Mediterranean, South Africa, Japan, South Australia, Argentina), particularly fruit crops such as grapes andapples with substantial added-value opportunities and expanding markets. BRIT is bringing new crop varieties and production methods to Texas as well as working to sustain crop plants (agrobiodiversity) in areas where they have been grown. BRIT Nexus elements: plants, soil, water, and food.
4. How can DFW homeowners use plants for water conservation? Given the huge diversity of people and practices in the DFW area, are there positive examples for the rest of us? BRIT has collaborated with the City of Fort Worth to solicit and evaluate an ECOScape competition for use of native plants and water conservation. Three exemplary home gardens were recognized in 2013, and we expect competition for the award will increase in 2014. As BRIT promotes positive models, recommending and encouraging adoption of proven solutions, we expect water use for yards in DFW to decline. BRIT Nexus elements: plants, soil, and water.
The BRIT Nexus is a powerful tool for generating insightful questions and producing useful answers. BRIT researchers and educators see enormous potential in this approach and anticipate the tool will guide creative, important work. We ask our community of colleagues and supporters to join us as in this effort to better understand the connection between soil, water, plants, food, and energy.